Thursday, July 17, 2014

From the Valley to the Banks

One day a week our summer intern, Rhona, volunteers at the Rainier Valley Food Bank, which receives produce from the Seattle Community Farm. Here are some of her reflections. 

As community gardeners, we often wonder at the market value of our produce. How much money is today’s harvest worth? How many meals can it make or mouths can it feed?

At the Seattle Community Farm, Tuesdays are harvesting days. That is when the beets come up and the raspberries fall down, when the crates for delivery stack up for washing and weighing before its final destination: the food bank. And that’s where we are headed today, to see how many mouths we can feed with the produce nurtured with community hands.

It is 8 in the morning. At the Rainier Valley Food Bank, a crowd of people already wait at the front door, many with large bags and containers. The food bank doors are shut but within there is a rush of activity. Crates are unloaded and stacked in a pick-up line system, the garage is prepped for quick restocking, and volunteers are standing at each station, ready to distribute the food: a package of chicken, a few vegetables, some canned goods. The hungry are many, and the resources always go quickly.

Looking into the storage garage, where the shelves are fully stocked for the week, you realize the meaning of “group effort.” Those ten crates over there are from Lettuce Link's Seattle Community Farm, those other ten at the entrance are from local P-Patch Giving Gardens and Seattle Tilth’s Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, and those being unloaded just now are from local grocery stores, as well as Northwest Harvest, and Food Lifeline. In the other corner being unboxed are packages of gnocchi, instant mashed potatoes, mushroom quinoa, and various snack products.

In that one food bank on that one day, there must have been over a dozen separate nonprofits, stores, and organizations that contributed to the food distributed that morning. But is it enough? The shelves are empty at the end of the day, yet familiar faces come back every week, and we ask ourselves just how many mouths can we feed? 

Because at the end of the day, when the empty crates are stacked outside awaiting restocking from the next deliveries, and when the numbers of food bank clients checked-in are calculated, I am seeing first-hand that perhaps helping stop hunger and providing food means not just providing a safety net that gives people food for a day. It’s so much more complicated than that. One piece of food justice means creating opportunities and resources for people of all backgrounds and income levels to learn how to grow their own food – skills they can use to feed their families for a lifetime.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Garlic Feast

This summer at Lettuce Link we're lucky to have a stellar intern crew. Today, we're featuring the writing of April, a Seattle native, Duke University student, and garlic-harvester extraordinaire.

Hello! My name is April and I am a new intern here at Lettuce Link. I have lived in Seattle my entire life, but I had never seen or heard of Solid Ground, Lettuce Link, Marra Farm or the Seattle Community Farm until this year. I have very little knowledge of farm work but am ready and eager to learn!

At the beginning of my internship, I drove right past both the Seattle Community Farm and Marra Farm, a not realizing that these were the farms that I was looking for. Both are tucked away in residential neighborhoods, and many people pass by not realizing the great work done by staff, volunteers, and community members at these farms.

In my past two weeks at both of these farms I have been astounded at the sheer quantity of fresh vegetables, and occasional fruits, that these small plots of land are able to produce. At Marra Farm, I am in charge of weighing and recording each bin of harvested vegetables each week.

Two Fridays ago, we harvested garlic, and at first I didn’t believe it was garlic. I am used to the white garlic pieces my dad gets from the grocery store, however, this was a deep beautiful purple plant with a long stalk attached. After a further explanation, I figured out it was fresh garlic that needed to be cleaned, weighed and then dried for two weeks.

There must have been at least ten baskets full of garlic bulbs. This garlic could last a long time for families who receive it at the food banks Marra Farm delivers produce to. A little garlic goes a long way, and adds a lot of zing and flavor to any dish. Given the large amount of garlic we harvested, I anticipate there will be wide variety of flavorful, garlicky dishes prepared with Marra Farm garlic.

I was able to bring some of the extra garlic home with me and truly enjoy the “farm to fork” experience. I am looking forward to learning about, growing, and eating new and exciting vegetables this summer!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hamm Creek Restoration: Would you believe this is Seattle?

Harmony. Lots can come to mind when you really think about it. But I’m talking environmental harmony. I visited, photographed, chatted at and volunteered on the Marra Farm Giving Garden for the first time a couple weeks ago. It was one of those rare Seattle spring days where the sun lingers all day and the temperature is just right. While I poked around the farm (before getting down and dirty planting tomatoes), I kept the idea of Hamm Creek in the back of my mind.

About three days before my visit, I talked to Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager at Solid Ground, about where I might find the creek once I arrived at the farm. He explained to me exactly where I could find it. I mean, the exact placement of the creek from any standing position, whether you’re facing north, south, east or west; are 300 feet from 4th Avenue South; next to the tallest scarecrow, etc. Let me tell you: I stillmissed it. After slowly exploring the farm, I finally circled back to where I’d started.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Crowd of Kids and Their Plot of Land

This summer at Lettuce Link we're lucky to have a stellar intern crew. Today, we're featuring the writing of Rhona, who left her home in Atlanta to spend the summer in Seattle with Lettuce Link as a DukeEngage intern.

This week we saw the first class of students from the ReWA youth program, a middle school summer program targeting refugee and immigrant youths, visit Lettuce Link’s Seattle Community Farm for the first of a five-week gardening and nutrition curriculum based at the farm. The farm team consisting of Scott, Amelia, Kelly, and a few other interns split the kids up into three small groups rotating around stations centered on cooking/nutrition, gardening, and touring the farm. 

In the garden, Scott showed off the farm highlights of the week: crops of lettuce, bok choy, snap peas, and beets among others. The kids were invited to harvest and sample the plumpest snap peas hanging off the vines, and gained interesting tidbits about each vegetable on the farm. 

In Amelia’s group, the children busily staked the ground, claiming their own small plot for planting in hopes of harvesting their own line of crop at the end of five weeks. Interns scurried to and fro from the hose refilling watering buckets as the kids enthusiastically watered theirs, and also their friends’ seeds. 

Finally, with seeds in the soil and the taste of fresh snap peas on their tongues, the last group filled out a short questionnaire and received a short nutrition lesson from Kelly. With raspberries making up the main ingredient balanced with ice, salt, honey, and lemons, everyone had the opportunity to have a glass of the natural electrolyte refreshment.

At the conclusion of the program, all the ReWA kids and the farm staff gathered for the closing circle to recap the day’s activities. “Today I learned that gardening is fun,” said one middle schooler. “Today I learned that you can make juice out of fresh fruit,” chimed in another. But as for me, the most important thing I learned was that no matter where you’re from or what your personal background, whether you’re from North Dakota or from Atlanta, from Central America or Asia, gardening is an act that brings communities together in a group effort that oversteps plots and boundaries.

Raspberry Electric
Recipe by Leika Suzumura of Community Kitchens Northwest

This is a natural homemade electrolyte drink, minus the cost or artificial colors. Get creative with different combinations that you enjoy.

  • 1 quart filtered water
  • 1 cup fresh berries [we used raspberries]
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Fill ½ gallon pitcher with filtered water.
  • Place raspberries in a bowl and gently smash them with a fork to break the skin and release juices. Pour into water.
  • Add honey, salt, and lemon juice and stir.
  • Taste and adjust to desired flavor and strength.
  • Add ice and enjoy!
Other additions:
  • You can use other berries for this drink, including strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.
  • Cucumbers in place of raspberries works well.
  • Add in fresh mint, lemon balm, or other refreshing herb to your taste.
Makes 16 ounces

Friday, June 27, 2014

June 2014 Groundviews: Growing Healthy Partnerships

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the June 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit Solid Ground's website to read the entire issue online.

If you visit Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood on any given day from March to October, you’re likely to find a beehive of activity — often involving groups of students from Concord International School (pre-K through 5th grade), located just a few blocks away. Via collaboration with Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link and Apple Corps programs and Concord teachers, students learn about nutrition, the environment, and sustainable gardening and food systems.

At the center of the buzzing, you might find Amelia Swinton, Lettuce Link Education Coordinator, who describes her job as “the meeting ground of two different education programs.” There’s gardening education through Lettuce Link, combined with nutrition education through Apple Corps. In the fall and winter, she partners with an Apple Corps AmeriCorps member to teach weekly indoor nutrition-education lessons at Concord. Then during the growing season, classes move outdoors for hands-on gardening at Marra Farm, where kids get to “Adopt-a-Plot” that they plant, nurture and harvest themselves. Best of all, they get to bring the veggies home for their families to enjoy.

Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager, says it’s “a collective approach. We’re working together to achieve common goals around food justice, access and education. Almost everything that we do comes back to that.”

Engaging families 
Since 1998, Solid Ground’s involvement as one of several stewarding organizations at Marra Farm has greatly increased access to healthy nutritious food in South Park, and one of the most effective conduits for this has been Concord students themselves. When Solid Ground launched the Apple Corps program in 2007 to do nutrition and fitness education in schools and nonprofits, Concord became a natural partner.

In addition to classroom lessons, there are afterschool events designed not only to engage families, but also to encourage self-determination where healthy food choices are concerned. Annual “Market Night” celebrations are one such event, combining health and nutrition information and activities with cultural sharing presentations, and an open-air market where each kid is empowered to choose from and “purchase” a variety of fresh produce.

Rained out from the outdoor classroom,
Joanne cooks up some fresh
produce grown at Marra Farm.
At Concord’s recent Market Night, Amelia introduced us to Joanne – a 4th grader and very enthusiastic budding gardener – who has brought her family to the Farm on several occasions. Joanne tells us, “I like Marra Farm because they garden, and also they let other kids do it.” Her favorite veggie to grow is “peas. They’re actually a little hard; you have to use sticks so they can climb, and you need to water them and weed them every single time.”

Joanne definitely thinks it’s better to grow your own food rather than buy it in a grocery store because, “It’s more nutritious, because you’re proud of yourself, and you think it’s very good!” She says someday, “I’m going to go and make my own garden in the back of my house.” For now, she and her parents are happy to live so close to Marra Farm.

Another way families get involved is through student-led Community Kitchens, known at Concord as “4th Grade Cooks.” Amelia says, “The logic behind 4th Grade Cooks is that the best way to learn something is to teach it – and kids should be the nutrition teachers for their families. Kids are a great ‘carrot’ to get their whole family involved, and then it becomes a night where kids are in the lead in cooking healthy food – the end result being a fun, positive space where everybody eats a healthy, free dinner. And what family doesn’t want to come cook with their cute kid?”

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)
Honoring community strengths
In South Park, 30% of residents speak Spanish, and Latino students make up the largest ethnic group (over 61%) at Concord. As an international school, the dual-language immersion program strives for all students to become bilingual/biliterate in English and Spanish. While Amelia is fluent in Spanish, she says she hopes that Solid Ground’s work in South Park will become “more community based and build leadership amongst folks from the neighborhoods where we’re working. As a white educator not from the community, this feels especially important to me.”

One way Amelia connects the community to gardening and nutrition education efforts is to invite parents and teachers to guest-teach classes in their areas of expertise. Recently, one student’s mom gave his class a tour of the Marra Farm Chicken Co-op that she helped to create. “To encourage families to share some of their knowledge is a really powerful way of switching out those roles of who has knowledge, and who’s the giver of knowledge, and who’s the receiver of knowledge.”

But she adds, “I think the most important kernels of my work at Marra Farm are getting kids to bond with nature and healthy eating – and doing so in a way that acknowledges how agriculture and farming have been felt really disproportionately by different communities. Particularly in the Latino community, there’s been a lot of suffering through agriculture. There is also a huge amount of knowledge and pride. I hope the program continues to grow in a way that acknowledges people’s different experiences, while leading with the really beautiful and important things that happen when people love on their environment, feed their bodies well, and treat animals with respect.”

Amelia says, “Part of what makes nutrition education and the Marra Farm Giving Garden such a natural fit is that nutrition is all about, ‘Eat your fruits and veggies!’ And the Giving Garden makes it possible in a community that would otherwise struggle to access produce. Where do you get fresh vegetables? Marra Farm! Actually being able to say, ‘This is important and this is how you can get it’ is really powerful.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Marra Farm Chicken Cooperative

Last summer we introduced 17 teenage chickens (pullets) to their new home at Marra Farm as part of the Marra Farm Chicken Cooperative (MFCC)!

This was a monumental step towards the dream of a community-led chicken cooperative at Marra Farm. Though Lettuce Link provided staffing and support for the initial phases of the project, the long-term vision, however, has always been to see the chicken co-op become self-sustaining and self-governed by South Park community members.

Over the past few months, the Marra Farm Chicken Cooperative has narrowed down to a core group of 13 members who share the responsibilities of morning and evening care for the brood of hens. With the help of Lettuce Link’s Marra Farm Coordinator, Kyong Soh, and AmeriCorps member Amanda Reeves, the cooperative has developed systems for accountability, communication, and collecting dues, ensuring that they properly care for the chickens and fairly share the work (and benefits).

Cooperative members have committed to daily care of the chickens, cleaning the coop on a regular basis, and regularly communicating with each other. We commend the ways that the members have worked together across linguistic, cultural, and relational differences!

To maximize the health of the chickens, the land, and the eggs, the group decided to feed the ladies organic feed, greens, and other plant scraps. With an abundance of fresh greens at Marra Farm—including scraps from Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden, the brood has a diverse array of healthy greens to munch on alongside the store-bought feed. The hens get quite excited when presented with some scrumptious chard or bites of winter squash.

Given the timing of the project, the hens approached egg-laying age as winter approached and egg production dramatically tapered off. However, in late October co-op members collected the first few eggs, allowing the group to see their commitment pay off! It’s a nice taste of what the springtime will bring.

We welcome you to visit the chickens at Marra Farm. Community neighbors and visitors alike have enjoyed watching the chickens and seeing urban farming on a whole different level. The chickens also provide an opportunity to educate visitors about the importance of ethical and healthy animal care, and the amazing possibilities that emerge with community collaboration. Next time you come to Marra Farm, please walk around and say “hello” to the Marra Farm chickens!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter at Marra farm

With chilly temperatures and shortened hours of daylight, Northwest gardeners are taking a much-deserved winter’s rest. Cover crops have been sown, leaf mulch has been spread, and the gardeners are resting and remembering the year’s harvest.

While much of Lettuce Link's Giving Garden at Marra Farm has been “tucked to bed,” we are still hard at work tending 10 newly planted beds for winter growing! Garlic, spinach, chard, fava beans, bok choy, radishes, and carrots will grow slowly but surely throughout the winter months and help usher in the new season with an early spring harvest.

In November we set up hoop houses over the delicate crops to shield the small sprouts from bitter winter winds and freezing temperatures. We hope that the plants, snugly tucked in under these portable greenhouses, will make it until March.

Our preparations for our long winter's nap were no small task. The water to the whole farm is shut off to avoid freezing pipes, requiring resourceful and creative solutions to nourish the fledgling plants. Thanks to the help of South Park resident and grower, Irene, we set up a gravity-fed water barrel system to collect and distribute water. As a member of the Marra Farm Chicken Cooperative, Irene also helped set up a winterized water system for the coop.

Winter is also a time for preparation. Even though Marra Farm doesn’t appear to be very active, we are using the respite from the busyness to organize the sheds, maintain and clean the tools, order seeds, and plan for the 2014 growing season. Beyond preparing farm operations, we are planning for community events in South Park in the upcoming year. We are excited for the possibilities in 2014 and hope you'll stay tuned for updates on opportunities to join us!